Thursday, December 11, 2008

The U.S. (finally?) tackles the trafficking of human beings

Unless otherwise indicated, what follows was copied from the feminist blog, Women's Space. Thank you, Heart, for bringing this to my attention.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act passed the U.S. House at 6 p.m. Tuesday night and passed the Senate yesterday, according to Donna Hughes of the DIGNITY listserv. The bill’s sponsor is Sen. Joseph Biden [D-DE]; co-sponsors are Sen. Benjamin Cardin [D-MD], Sen. Orrin Hatch [R-UT], Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL], Sen. Arlen Specter [R-PA], Sen. Samuel Brownback [R-KS], Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]

Highlights of the Act:

Directs the President to implement an anti-trafficking program monitoring system.

Authorizes the President to establish the Paul D. Wellstone Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Sets forth protections for aliens who: (1) may be trafficking victims or who may testify against traffickers (including parole entry for certain family members); (2) are work-based nonimmigrants; (3) are domestic workers; or (4) are employees of foreign diplomatic or other government personnel, or employees of international organization personnel.

Sets forth provisions respecting: (1) assistance for trafficking victims, including child victims and U.S. citizens; (2) offenses of trafficking, forced labor, enticement into slavery, sex trafficking of children, and sex tourism.

Directs the Secretary to develop: (1) policies and procedures to ensure that unaccompanied alien children in the United States are safely repatriated to their country of nationality or of last habitual residence; and (2) a safe repatriation pilot program for alien children.

In his statement to the Senate on the bill, Joe Biden said:

Human trafficking is a major problem worldwide and the challenges remain great. According to the most recent State Department report, roughly 800,000 individuals are trafficked each year, the overwhelming majority of them women and children. The FBI estimates approximately $9.5 billion is generated annually for organized crime from trafficking in persons. The International Labor Organization estimates that, at present, 2.4 million persons have been trafficked into situations of forced labor.

These victims are trafficked in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are kidnapped outright, but many times they are lured with dubious job offers, or false marriage opportunities. The traffickers capitalize on the victims’ desire to seek a better life, and trap them with lifetime debt bondages that degrade and destroy their lives.

Since 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has provided us effective tools, and in this reauthorization, our aim is to take the successes and lessons of eight years of progress and expand our abilities to combat human trafficking. In Title I, the legislation focuses on combating human trafficking internationally by broadening the U.S. interagency task force charged with monitoring and combating trafficking, and increasing the authority to the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. Because of the difficulty in accurately understanding the full scope of the problem globally, we also include provisions to coordinate our multiple federal databases, and set a reporting requirement to address forced labor and child labor.

Today’s reauthorization bill also expands our ability to combat trafficking in the United States. We’ve provided for certain improvements to the T-visa program, which protects trafficking victims and their families from retaliation, so that we can have their help in bringing traffickers to justice, without the victim fearing harm to themselves or their loved ones. We also expand authority for U.S. Government programs to help those who have been trafficked, and require a study to outline any additional gaps in assistance that may exist. Finally, we establish some powerful new legal tools, including increasing the jurisdiction of the courts, enhancing penalties for trafficking offenses, punishing those who profit from trafficked labor and ensuring restitution of forfeited assets to victims.

Human trafficking is a daunting and critical global issue. I urge my colleagues to support this reauthorization and work with Senator Brownback and me to pass it in the Senate as quickly as possible.

For those who might not know, William Wilberforce was a social reformer and abolitionist, instrumental in bringing slavery and the slave trade to an end in the British Empire. [Heart's complete post is linked to here.]

Closing thoughts on this heinousness [by Julian]:

The current trafficking of children and women, used callously and sexually by men, according to many who live through it, is experienced as and understood to be the newest manifestation of a very old form of atrocity: human slavery. Like the slavery of the U.S.'s Old White South, the current form is also a complex of racism and misogyny welded to economic and sexual exploitation. This is to say: it is the gross destruction of human life while a person is alive.

It is important to remember that many other forms of slavery and gross human destruction are also still in existence. Any form of slavery is a political activity, often systematised and highly organised with force, where the presence of human rights is nonexistent for those held captive and traded as sex-things to be abused and imprisoned. The trafficking of people as enslaved sex-things is to define and treat them as inhuman.